SHORT STORY Jan. 19, 2022

I wish there was one perfect word to permanently describe and label people in the world. Then, each person would walk around with their labels on the forehead and life would not seem so complicated.  

You will know Jack as an asshole, and you will avoid him at all costs. You will know Henry as kind and often lean on him for support. You will know Sara as sad and often go cry with her. And so on, and so on.

If the world was like that, I actually believe love will be not so hard to find.

And people like Vera would not be so hard to love.

You see, Vera is what, in this hypothetical one-word-to-fully-label-someone world, people would label odd.

A more perfect word is of course eccentric, and it is the word I personally prefer to use when describing her.  

Unlike odd, which is kind of a bore to even pronounce, eccentric is complicated and layered and sounds like the kind of word poets would use to describe their muse.

I like eccentric for Vera, and I bet she likes it too.

There are three reasons why Vera will be labelled eccentric. One has to do with the way she looks, another with the way talks and the last has to do with the way she loves.

Now, I am not saying Vera is ugly. Far from it. She is beautiful.

Her skin is of this even chocolate complexion that most models would kill for.

 Her eyes are a mesmerizing brown that anyone who dared fall in love with her could spend eternity getting lost in them.

Her nose is small, round, perfect.

She has an amazing figure – medium-sized breasts, small waist, average ass.

And to top it all off, she has the most beautiful smile that could blind even the meanest looking Taliban.

However, there is one thing that is terribly wrong with Vera’s looks. Across her face, starting from the left side of her forehead and running across to the bridge of her right nostril, Vera has a huge one-line scar.

The scar does not really affect her beauty, or at least for me it doesn’t, but it sure gives a reason for her to be labeled odd.

When people see the scar, there is only one question that crosses their minds – what happened?

What happened, she told me once, was her mother.

 You see, Vera’s mother was crazy. And not in the way we all call our mothers crazy for fussing over small things like not washing utensils. No. Her mother was a certified mentally challenged person.

When she was young, Vera used to live alone with her mother in a small village in Maragoli. She told me that her mother used to have these crazy fits where she would scream, and break stuff and remove all her clothes and cuss everyone out.

It happened at least three or four times a year, and when she was like that, it usually took the whole village to calm her down.

I asked her how her mother w as when she was not having these fits, and she looked at me with her beautiful brown eyes and this little eccentric smile and said: 

 “She was the coolest mum ever.”

One day, Vera’s crazy mother came home from the market. It was a Thursday and Vera was in the sitting room doing some Social Studies homework that was due the next day.

Up to this day, Vera doesn’t know what came over her mother that Thursday, but what she remembers is that one minute she was doing homework and the next her mother was attacking her with a knife.

It was shock that caused her not to react as quickly as she could have. In all the years of her mother having fits, not once had she hurt Vera or even attempted too.

By the time Vera managed to get out of the house and scream for help, the damage had already been done.

A deep cut across the face, two stab wounds on her right leg and a shallow cut along her right arm – those was the last gifts her mother ever gave her.

Her mother was put in a mental hospital after that, and Vera quickly became the lucky adoptee of a politician who was trying to impress the villagers into voting for him.

After her wounds had healed, she moved into the politician’s house in Utawala, where he lived with his family – two small children and a wife.

Life as an adopted child was not that bad, she said. It was boring and quiet and peaceful and sometimes she missed her mother and her crazy fits terribly, but other than that, not bad.

If someone overlooks Vera’s face scar and talked to her, like most people tried to in order to seem more human, then they would find yet another layer of Vera’s eccentricity – the way she talks.

Or rather, the way she does not talk.

Vera simply does not know how to speak to people. A total stranger or a mutual friend would meet her and say Hi, and instead of saying Hi back, she would look down and start speaking really softly about some insignificant things.

Other times, she would just zone out and stare at you while you asked her questions until you got weirded out and walked away.

And on those very rare occasions that she actually spoke audibly enough for someone to hear her, she would just go on and on and on about a book she read, or was reading.

 And considering this was the age of social media, it was no wonder her conversations put some people off.

Vera’s favorite book is Little Women.

 She loves that book so much, and once, she told me she had read it an exact number of 115 times.

 I asked her why Little Women, and I swear she had this bright glow in her eyes as she said:

“Are you kidding me? If I had a family that loved each other as much as the March family did, and if I had sisters who I could talk about anything with, and if I was Jo, then, then I would be complete.”

At that moment, I looked down. The glow in her eyes was starting to make my own eyes watery and I wanted to ask her:

“Vera, have you ever experienced how it is like to be truly loved?”

But I changed my mind at the last second and instead, I asked where her love for books came from.

She told me it came from her mother.

You see, Vera’s crazy mother was a huge fan of classic English literature. She had all sorts of classic novels in her house – The Great Gatsby, Pride, and Prejudice, Little Women, The Catcher in the Rye – you name it, and she had it.

She also had a couple of Shakespeare’s plays, although she did not love them as much as she loved the novels.

I asked Vera where her mother got all those books seeing that they lived in a small village in Maragoli at the time, and she told me that her mother’s great-great-grandmother used to work for this mzungu that had a huge library filled with all sorts of books.

The mzungu had a soft spot for Vera’s great-great-great-grandmother, and when he went back to Britain after Kenya gained independence, he left her all the books in the library.

The books had been passed around from generation to generation and apart from Vera’s great-great-great-grandmother, the only person who adored them so much was Vera’s mother.

I was curious, so I asked what happened to the books when she moved away from Maragoli.

“They were donated to a local library by my foster dad.”

She kept quiet for a while, and then, just when I started thinking that was the end of the conversation, she blurted out:

“I was able to save two books though. Little Women and my mother’s favorite book.”

“What was your mother’s favorite book?” the question came tumbling out of me.

 “Yonder. By Margaret Bell Houston. She was very fond of it. Read it as many times as I did Little Women. There was this quote she loved from it. The quote said -.

Yonder Key is like living in a shell, with the sound of sea all around.”

  It took me a long time to figure out why she loved that quote so much, but when I finally did...”

 She paused, her eyes dropping to the floor.  

I thought she was trying not to cry, but then, a few seconds later, she looked up and her eyes had that same bright glow from before and suddenly, I understood the paragraph on her bedroom door.  

The paragraph, printed in a strip of plain white paper and black ink, read:

“I am going into the sea, and from there, I will return with the most beautiful shell.

I shall call it MY SHELL , and for it, I will build the most beautiful home and place it in the most beautiful surface and people from all over shall come to admire it and worship it and understand it.

I am going into the sea, and from there, I will free you.”

“Do you mind going away? I kind of want to be alone.”

That was another thing about Vera. When she talked, in the few times she talked, she was always blatantly honest.

If she didn’t like you, she would say it to your face that she didn’t like you and even list reasons why you were unlikable. Sometimes, she went as far telling you in detail how you could change yourself for the better.

The same case went for if she liked you.

If she liked you, you knew it. You felt it.

She would have this smile whenever she sees you. Not her normal beautiful smile, no. This one was a reserved one, a secret one, meant only for people she liked.

She would also tell you numerous times that she liked you and find little reasons to hug you tightly while saying why she liked you. That is just how she loved.

Unsurprisingly, most people found this odd, and often avoided her when she started acting like that.

Not me though. 

I love those little  “I like you so much. You are my friend and I like you so much” lines that she randomly says whenever I am in the middle of laughing or telling her a crazy story.

I love when she hugs me out of nowhere and holds me so tight I can feel all the air simultaneously escaping from my lungs and rushing in.

I love it when she sees me and she smiles her little smile.

I just…I just I love how she loves.

Once I told Vera about my ideal world, where there would be one word to describe everyone and that one word would be put as a label on top people’s forehead and then life would not be so complicated.

She looked at me with her mesmerizing brown eyes and said:

“I have never heard my world described so perfectly.”

At that moment, I felt my heart turn into a puddle of nothingness and every-thingness and all I wanted to do was kiss her there and then and say it all; confess it all.

But then, she said:

 “You know what one word would perfectly describe my mother in your ideal world? Anomalously free.”

She closed her eyes as she said free and swung her hands in the air a little, as if she could see her mother there, being free.

Then she suddenly opened her eyes, brought her hand down and smiled mischievously as if she had just realized something.

 “Wait, Anomalously free are two words. And besides, I don’t think they would fit my mum’s small forehead. What about…”

She paused, then stared directly into my eyes as she said:

“What about Eccentric?”

And I swear I could feel my heart stop beating.


by Amanda Nechesa 43

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